Issues

Diversity of religions and harmony

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Dr M. D. Thomas

Religion, in its qualitative sense, is the core element of life. But, a large majority of people aren’t capable of arriving at the quality level of religion. They are almost condemned to remain at the elementary rungs of the ladder of religion, due to the slavish mindset they have inherited in the name of religion. No wonder, they entertain themselves with myths and stories, rites and rituals, doctrines and dogmas, pilgrimages and fasts, and the like, which form the large and complex system of the popular religion. Only a small percent of people are fortunate to rise to the level of elevating experiences and enlightened insights, which truly motivate and energise life with a superior sense of meaning in its various magnitudes and altitudes.

To give a one-word answer to the question whether religion is good or bad wouldn’t be fair. The above note about religion points the finger towards a multi-dimensional phenomenon that is religion. For those who derive experiential, insightful, elevating and qualitative benefits, religion is a positive reality. For those who are caught up in the whirlpool of self-defeating ritual habits and intoxicating myths and stories as well as extravagant and enslaving observances, religion is a negative reality, although they do not realise it.

Besides, the world history is a proof to the heartwarming fact that there are not enough words to describe the outstanding contribution religion has made to humanity by culturing the human civilisation. On the other hand, all languages seem to fail miserably when they want to articulate the heart-breaking violence, massacres and crimes against humanity religions have caused and are still causing in the world. If religion can be exalted as a blessing to humanity, on the positive side, it has to be accepted as a liability, on the negative side. As a matter of fact, religion is like a double-edged sword. It cuts for making someone well and it cuts for a wrong purpose as well.  

Diversity of religions has been a hard nut from time immemorial. It wouldn’t be realistic to deify any group, nation, community or civilisation for honouring diversity of religions when it is a question of genuinely living it. It won’t be fair to demonise any group, nation, community or civilisation for totally meddling with it either. One-sided views are both wrong and diabolic. Any fair mind would and should refrain from doing so. India has all the right to state that it is probably the most diverse country in the world with regard to the diversity of religions. But, I don’t think India has any right to take the credit of intentionally living or celebrating unity in diversity, even at the lowest level of ethics.

History is a witness to the terrible havoc of discrimination and violence which the land called India has witnessed and is still witnessing in the name of caste, creed, gender, ideology, language, culture, ethnicity, region, and the like. If truth be told, India has a lot of potential to become a role model for living harmony among diversity of religions and other social entities. But, as a matter of fact, is India in actual fact on the track of balancing the diversities of religions with peaceful co-existence and harmonious living? Or is it running the risk of getting derailed from the track of harmony among religious diversities, by its several foul-minded and highhanded ways, especially in recent times?  

Unity in diversity in religions is not merely tolerating the other. Toleration has a negative tone. There is a sense of helplessness on one’s side and a sense of insult to the other. Tolerating the other is not a value either. It is certainly a basic requirement for any positive step towards maintaining good relations with the other. Unity in diversity is much more than peaceful co-existence, too. Existing side by side, though not fighting with each other, in such a way that the entities have hardly anything to do with each other is like the peace of the cemetery. That does not make a value, too. Unity among the diversity of religions has to go a long way beyond these traditional and goody-goody jargons that have hardly contributed to interactive and democratic living among communities.   

Harmonising diversities of religions would mean considering the treasury of religious scriptures, ideals, values, insights, and the like, as the gift of the same Creator, may the same be conceived in any gender, presented in any form or addressed in any language. It is true that the religious traditions that emerged from different seers, prophets or god men and women, that too in different temporal and geographical contexts of the human history. But, the colloquium of religions is the common cultural heritage of the human society. Affiliations of the disciples or followers may differ. Even so, believers have no business to divide the divine-human assets as mine and yours. The foundation of harmony of religions is certainly such a mindset that composes the embryo of a larger and all-inclusive faith.

Sharing the common pedestal of faith, along with the entire life, is the genius of harmony among diverse religious traditions. All believers have a common origin, a common world to have their being and a common destiny in life. Living one’s life on earth would mean sharing with the other the best of what one holds on to and sharing in the best of what the other holds on to in his or her life. Believers of individual traditions of religions have to learn to celebrate a we-feeling with each other, like parts together do to make the whole. They are like the rainbow, which is perhaps the most powerful symbol for the spirit of togetherness on earth.

Harmony would mean blending one and many, which defines the basic dynamics of human life. Spirit is one, and so is faith, though it has many aspects. There are similarities and dissimilarities in those aspects. As similarity is the uniting factor, difference is the enriching factor. Faith is an undivided entity and therefore its aspects do not contradict each other. They ever remain essentially a complementary reality. The Creator is the common parent and source of life of all beings and getting back home is the destination of all humans, whose devotion in life is a filial experience that takes shape in fraternal terms. Making the family of God on earth is the shared vision of believers of all persuasions. Such a vision, when translated into a mission, would pave the way towards a participatory, interactive, collaborative, harmonious and peaceful living among diversity of religions.                  

The author is Founder Director of the Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. He may be contacted at mdthomas53@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2016 on page no. 2

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